Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Franz Reinhard Weninger at Weingut Weninger in Austria
I had the pleasure to spend a couple of hours with Franz Reinhard Weninger in Horitschon in the Mittelburgenland region in Austria. Franz Reinhard is the son of Franz Weninger, who made the name Weninger famous in the wine world. “Weninger is one of the most highly regarded wineries in Austria (Falstaff, March 2005)”.
We spent time in the vineyards and at the winery of Weingut Weninger in Horitschon. Although the plan is that Franz Reinhard will eventually take over the Weingut Weninger in Burgenland, for the time being, Franz Reinhard manages a winery in Hungary, just across the border, which his father Franz founded a few years ago. Also, Franz co-founded a winery with Attila Gere a few years ago in Hungary. So, of course, we focused on the Weingut Weninger in Burgenland, but did not lose sight of the other two Weninger estates.
Burgenland is one of Austria’s 4 major wine regions – Lower Austria, Styria, Burgenland and Vienna – which was for many years a bit on the margin, although it has a log wine growing tradition. Burgenland belonged to Hungary until 1921 when it was annexed to Austria post WWI. It is a melting pot of Magyar, Slavic and Austrian cultures. Many of the towns have two names, one Croatian or Hungarian and the other name Austrian. The vineyard area of Burgenland totals 14.000 hectares and comprises 4 areas:
Picture: The Wine Regions of Austria
Neusiedlersee: At the edges of the vast and shallow Lake Neusiedl, a variety of grapes are grown on 9,100 hectares of vineyards, including world-famous noble sweet wines.
Neusiedlersee-Hügelland: At the foot of the Leithagebirge and west of Lake Neusiedl, a variety of grapes are grown on 4,150 hectares of vineyards, including the renowned Ruster Ausbruch.
Mittelburgenland: On 2,100 hectares of vineyards, one red grape variety plays the leading role: Blaufränkisch and 4 towns are the wine-growing area´s main producers: Deutschkreutz, Horitschon, Lutzmannsburg and Neckenmarkt.
Südburgenland: One of Austria´s smallest wine-growing areas, where excellent terroir wines are produced from 500 hectares of vineyards, which are situated mainly on the Eisenberg, with Blaufraenkisch being the typical red wine.
Blends of Blaufraenkisch with international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and matured in small new oak barrels put Mittelburgenland on the map in the 1990s. Then, premium wine production shifted away from blends to 100% Blaufrankisch wines. Mittelburgenland DAC was the first wine in Burgenland to be given DAC status - 100% Blaufränkisch matured in stainless steel or used barrels and casks that do not impart new oak flavours (Classic). Mittelburgenland Reserve DAC is also 100% Blaufränkisch from Mittelburgenland, but may be matured in new oak.
Although Blaufränkisch is the main variety (55% of the vineyard area is planted with Blaufränkisch), Mittelburgenland also produces dry white wines, including Welschriesling and Chardonnay, and other red wines, such as Zweigelt, St. Laurent, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Weingut Weninger in Mittelburgenland, Austria
The Weninger family has been making wine for generations in Mittelburgenland, but used to sell the wine in barrels. This changed in 1982, when Franz Weninger started to bottle his wine. At that time, the vineyards totaled only 7 hectares. But the Blaufränkisch, Franz Weninger made in the first year, caught the attention of Austrian and foreign wine drinkers. From there one, the way was only upwards for the Weninger wines, both in terms of quantity and quality. Today, the size of the estate in Miitelburgenland has increased to 30 hectares and Franz Weninger is ranked among the top Austrian winemakers.
Franz Weninger’s way of working is based on the principle of exerting as little influence on the growth of the plants as possible. Converting to a bio-dynamic production method in 2006 was thus a logical step toward coming closer to nature and improving quality. Franz Reinhard says: “ The winemaker can only bring out in the cellar what is already in the grape. The soil, the water, and the environment are key factors. And these factors vary from vineyard to vineyard. This is why we moved to bio-dynamic production methods and why we make such an effort to find the right grape variety for the different soils.”
"In terms of winemaking” says Franz Reinhard, “the trend is to less oak. We like used oak. Vinification takes place in wooden fermentation vats of 4000 liters and we use only yeasts from our own vineyards. Spontaneous fermentation is easier in wood.”
Hochäcker site: This rock-hard, ferruginous clay horizon is the best soil for Blaufränkisch and Merlot. The oldest vines on the site are roughly 80 years old. The wines that come from here age well and are full of character.
Kirchholz site: The Kirchholz site is directly adjacent to the Hochäcker site. The soil here is lighter and more porous. This site has also been dedicated to Blaufränkisch, which grows on vines older than 35 years.
Raga site: Zweigelt takes root best in less heavy, loamy soils. And Merlot appreciates the proximity to the Raga woods and deep, friable brown soil.
Kalkofenboden site: This southern exposure provides the ideal conditions for Pinot Noir; the soil is rich in lime and called rendsine.
Dürrau site: Even in very dry times, there is still water on the Dürrau site; the disadvantage is that the roots have to push their way through the heavy, loamy soil – a job cut out for Blaufränkisch vines.
Saybritz site: For several years Franz Weninger has been making wine from the Saybritz site in southern Burgenland. The 0.6 hectares belong to relatives. The extremely steep slope is mainly planted with 35-year-old vines of the Blaufränkisch variety.
The Weninger Wine Portfolio
The wines start at Euro 6 for the entry level wines and go up to Euro 49 for the Duerrau ex-winery. Most of the wines are red wines. About 70$ of the output is sold in Austria, the remainder is exported, with Japan being a strong market.
St. Laurent: The storybook Burgenland wine: ruby red color, intensive aroma of black cherries and cherries. Even young, it already shows complexity and good density.
Picture: The Wines Of Weingut Weninger in Austria
Zweigelt: Characteristic of the younger type of this variety. Fruity, harmonious, velvety, with cherry notes on the nose.
Zweigelt Raga: Aged for 11 months in barriques, this is a fruity wine with sour cherry and plum aromas and light, sweet woody notes. A lively balance between fruit and acidity and a delicate mineral spice give this Zweigelt extraordinary potential.
Blaufränkisch Horitschon: A classic central Burgenland wine, aged in large oak barrels, ruby red, intensive flavor, lively on the palate with a long finish.
Blaufränkisch Hochäcker: This wine is an example of what the predominant grape variety in central Burgenland is capable of bringing forth: very old vines, rigorous selection, and aging in oak barrels (at least one year) produce an elegant, complex wine with a long finish.
Blaufränkisch Saybritz: The Saybritz site is located in southern Burgenland on the Eisenberg hill. The grapes used to make this Blaufränkisch come from vines of an average age of 40 years.
Blaufränkisch Reserve: The modern counterpart to the classic Hochäcker, made from a selection of the best grapes from the oldest vineyards. 15 months in the barrique give it a new dimension without adulterating the typical local character of the grape variety. A wine to be aged, best drunk between the 3rd and 7th year.
Merlot: Originally planted as the predominant grape for cuvées, this international variety soon developed a uniquely independent character in these deep loamy soils and since 1995 has been processed as a varietal wine. In the nose it is fruity and elegant; on the palate, harmonious and velvety. The wine is aged for 18 months in new barriques.
Cabernet Sauvignon: Grown on the Hochäcker and Raga sites and aged in French barriques for 18 months.
Veratina Cuvée: Derived from the names of his daughters Verena and Martina, this is Franz Weninger’s best cuvée. Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt, and Merlot have been blended into a tantalizing work of art. The structure and tannins of the Blaufränkisch, the soft, melted caramel of the Merlot, the chewy voluminous character of the Zweigelt – a full-bodied wine of massive dimensions. Best drunk between the 3rd and 8th year.
Blaufränkisch Kirchholz: This wine is characterized by a dark ruby-pomegranate color, a clear, spicy Blaufränkisch fruit with distinctive mineral notes. Vinified from grapes produced by over 30-year-old vines grown on a terrain of clay-loam soil mixed with sand and gravel. Fermentation (spontaneous) and further aging in 2-year-old barriques yields a wine that is full-bodied on the palate with a pronounced fruity flavor of plums and blackberries and striking tannins!
Blaufränkisch Dürrau: Franz Weninger vinified his Blaufränkisch grapes from the Dürrau site as a single-site wine for the first time in 1999. The wine represents the rough-and-ready Blaufränkisch grape variety, robust, rich in extracts, superb tannins, and a strong smoky, woody flavor. Exceptionally dark, ruby-pomegranate color, intensive blackberry aromas, the juicy fruitiness of black cherries give this dense wine, which is very typical for this region, its distinctive quality.
Pinot Noir Kalkofen: This southern slope is known for its warm, chalky soil. Franz Weninger vinifies the grapes grown here to produce a barrique-aged Pinot Noir with plenty of fruit and a pleasant caramel-woody aroma.
The Weninger Weingut in Balf, Hungary
In 1997, after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, Franz Weninger founded another winery in the region, in the village of Balf, just across the border of Austria, at the southern end of Lake Neusiedl, in the wine region of Sopron in Hungary. “It was one of the first modern wineries in Hungary” says Franz Rheinhard.
Picture: Map of Hortischon and Balf
Predominantly red wine is cultivated on the more than 1,900 hectares of vineyards between Lake Neusiedl and the Sopron mountains – a zone where Pannonian and subalpine terrrains converge. The foothills of the Alps bring coolness, the lake stores warmth, and the ground willingly submits to cultivation.
The winery is now managed by Franz Reinhard Weninger. Franz Reinhard was born in 1979 and grew up on his parents’ wine estate in Mittelburgenland. After graduating from enology school in Klosterneuburg, he did internships at Schloss Sallegg (Italy), Kendall-Jackson’s Vinwood Cellars, California (USA), and the Mundrakoona Estate (Australia). In 2000, he took over the Balf estate. In 2006 the Hungarian wine magazine Borbarat ranked Franz Reinhard Weninger as number seven in its list of best Hungarian wineries.
The winery totals 22 hectares. About 60 % of the wines are sold in Hungary. As in Burgenland, the grapes are grown following bio-dynamic principles. “What is the main difference between Austria and Hungarian wine” I asked? “They use less sulfur and more oxidation in Hungary than in Austria’ says Franz Reinhard.
Spern Steiner: The Spern Steiner site (14 hectares) once belonged to the Church of Sopron. In the town chronicles it was always mentioned as the finest and most precious vineyard in the region. This terrain has been used for viticulture for roughly 400 years. Rich in gneiss and mica schist, the rare mineral composition of the soil on this site provides a particularly exciting basis for Kékfrankos. These particular vines were planted back in the 1960s and the roots of this variety reach deep into the rock, break it down, and draw the minerals into the plant.
Picture: The Wines of Weingut Weninger in Balf, Hungary
Frettner: The 8 hectares of vineyards on the Frettner site lie at the edge of an oak woods and feature excellent loamy soils. The old rock of the mountains between the foothills of the Alps and Lake Neusiedl have transformed themselves into brown soils with deposits of extremely weathered bedrock. The soil here is very deep and is rich in humus and lime deposits. Due to its proximity to the woods, cold air blows over the vineyards and keeps the grapes constantly cool.
The Weninger and Gere Weingut in Villany, Hungary
In 1992, Franz Weninger teamed up with Hungarian winemaker Attila Gere and founded the Weninger and Gere Weingut in Villány in Hungary. Since then, they have been producing fine red wine on 13 hectares of land in Villány, the southernmost wine region in Hungary, situated near the Croatian border. Franz brought new technical know-how. The region enjoys both a Mediterranean and continental climate. The wines are deep, dark and powerful. They have become extremely sought after in Hungary, and only a small amount is exported.
Cabernet Franc: Smoky-spicy red wine of Cabernet Franc grapes, easy to drink.
Cuvée Phoenix: Massive cuvée. A wine that ideally combines an impulsive southern temperament with modern elegance.
Pictures: The Wines of Weingut Weninger/Gere in Hungary
Kopár: This is the emblematic wine of the winery. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, it is only made in the best years with selected grapes from the premium slopes of Villány (Kopár, Csillagvölgy, and Konkoly). It is aged for 16-20 months in new Hungarian oak barrels.
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